Johnny Butterflyseed discovered a Jujube, genus Pseudoziziphus, which has sprung up in an area of formerly mown sodgrass on his conservation land in the very heart of the Lake Wales Ridge.
Johnny obtained the land for research of the endangered Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the xeric uplands of Central Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge. It is meant to be an experimental homestead and research station for long-term life studies of truly native Florida species; many endemic, and many endangered.
The more than three acre site has been a homestead for decades in the midst of multiple state-operated conservation areas, including the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, and the Walk-In-Water Wildlife Management Area, among others. On site are Turkey Oak, Sand Live Oak, Sand Pine, Myrtle Oak, Paw Paws, Prickly Pear, Tough Bully, Gopher Apple, Blueberry, Blackberry, Muscadine, and many more species; endemic, endangered, or otherwise. Johnny cares for them all.
Further, the land is patrolled by White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus Virginianus), along with the endangered Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus Polyphemus), who are the most likely propagators of North American Jujube (Pseudoziziphus) species. These species will find, consume, digest, and later plant the Jujube seed after it has been organically scarified through the animal’s digestive system. It is a wonderfully disgusting process, which leads to the spread of some of the most ancient and interesting plant species on the face of the Earth.
The Jujube was found in an area treated last season for Centipede Grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) using Johnny’s newly developed “Prescribed Microburn” technique for residential areas. The Prescribed Microburn concept follows all county laws which allow a certain amount of residential yard waste to be burned in a limited area. In this way, residents who wish to maintain a truly native and natural yard can make a pile of trimmings, leaves, etc and burn them in an area that would benefit from the burn in a size that is very manageable for a homeowner. This represents nearly perfect maintenance for the native Lake Wales Ridge.
This concept will also work for people living in the California Chaparral, or anywhere else wildfires are native and natural but repressed by human settlement. Fire is good!
Further, the Jujube was found in the area Johnny set up as an experimental Sandhill Milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) installation, which was designed with residential areas in mind. While it does require removal of sodgrass, Johnny believes people will want to have this type of scrub habitat in their yard in the coming years, and for decades to come.
The purpose of the treatment and Prescribed Microburn of the area was to install Sandhill Milkweed for the Monarch Butterfly and its larva. Sandhill Milkweed itself needs open, sandy areas that are excessively drained, and will not survive spreading sodgrasses. This is yet another reason for the decline of the Monarch.
Johnny believes the Jujube has been trying to sprout up through the former sodgrass, but the previous practice of lawn mowing must have repeatedly chopped the little sprout back. It is assumed, once the mowing stopped, and later the sodgrass was treated and burned, that the deeper-rooted Jujube was able to re-concentrate on upward growth.
Johnny originally identified the Jujube earlier in the year as one of dozens of the site’s Tough Bully (Sideroxylon tenax) seedlings, which are extremely close in their attributes, especially when very small.
Throughout the year, Johnny noticed the tiny, very green leaves of the small shoot did not grow out to be as long as the usual Tough Bully. Further, the underside of the leaves never developed the rusty-colored fuzziness expected from a Tough Bully. This is what lead to the positive identification of genus Pseudoziziphus.
Once identified as a Jujube, the young shrub has been protected by a circular cage made from 24″ wide hardware cloth attached to a pair of T-posts, which is enough for the plant not yet six inches tall. Soon it will need a larger enclosure, but this was what was on-hand.
Further, a net made for citrus trees has been employed to provide shade from the intense Florida sun. If this young shoot was mostly covered by sodgrass last year, it is likely the full sun might be a bit much for it this year.
Johnny believes that to determine if this Jujube is a Florida Jujube (Pseudoziziphus celata) or a Parry’s Jujube (Pseudoziziphus parryii) will require DNA sequencing. He suspects more than one horticulturist of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century might have brought Parry’s Jujube root-stock from the California Chaparral to see if it might survive the harsh and ancient Lake Wales Ridge environment. Certainly, someone working for Edward Bok might have brought one while building his extravagant botanical garden featuring many species brought in from all over the world. Many of these botanical gardens brought invasive species with them, such as Cogongrass, or Brazilian Pepper, sold as a Holly-like ornamental landscaping plants in the late 1800s.
Further, some of the more intensive tissue culture experiments performed on Pseudoziziphus in Florida included heavy doses of hormones intended to increase the number of new shoots using a process called ‘micropropagation.’ There is a chance this lab-based experiment might have simply genetically modified a Parry’s Jujube into a new cultivar. The DNA sequencing results will be interesting, but will have to wait until this shoot can become a bush large enough to donate a handful of leaves.
Regardless of which exact species is from which exact area, Gopher Tortoises love Jujubes. They will find them from below, while tunneling safely out of sight, and create an opening directly under the Jujube, where the fruits tend to fall and congregate amongst the thorns.
Gopher tortoises are not afraid of thorns; their favorite plant to eat found in the area of the Jujube, has one common name of ‘Finger Rot.’ A tortoise will even race you to get to it first before they scurry off to their burrow, still chewing.
They will even bite and cut the roots of our precious Jujubes! Luckily, this just creates more bushy outgrowths in a mature plant. In this way the Gopher Tortoise is truly farming his land; making it better for himself, and for everyone.. one day at a time!